Rosalind Robson reviews “The Dirty Business”, 1 March, Channel 4
Andrew Gilligan’s investigation was part of a series of Channel 4 films about the US’s organisation and sponsorship of torture around the world.
Officially both the US (and the UK) condemn the use of torture and human rights abuses. But it is fair weather opposition.
What would Gordon Brown have said if any reporter had bothered to ask him whether, on his recent visit to China, he had given the government an ear-bashing about their abuse of human rights? He might have replied like this: “Well, er, as mindful as I am about those problems, I was trying to represent the interests of workers in Birmingham. It would have been inappropriate to raise those issues at that moment in time.”
But perhaps we are giving Brown the benefit of the doubt. As campaigning solicitor Gareth Peirce tells Gilligan in this film, capitalist governments no longer make any secret about their willingness to compromise human rights. There is a new norm. They say we are living in an State of Emergency, an epoch of Mad Jihadi Islamists Under the Bed, therefore we all just have to grit our teeth and be prepared to ditch human rights. Put that terror suspect under house arrest, deny them access to lawyers, look them up and throw away the key!
At the end of Gilligan’s film he interviewed Craig Murray. Murray was sacked as UK Ambassador to Uzbekistan because he objected to MI5 using “intelligence” gained by torture in Uzbekistan. Murray, being an old-school, English liberal, the type once called “a decent chap”, is shocked to the core about the behaviour of the British government.
He had a meeting with Jack Straw who told him that the government would go on using the tainted intelligence of the Uzbekistan secret police, but that he had lost sleep over the issue. Murray spits: “The victims of torture don’t care about Jack Straw losing sleep.” To see this “decent chap” lose his cool and be close to tears is very instructive.
The US secret police are out of control. One might say they always have been — organising coups is hardly the work of people with respect for a rule of law. However their latest trick, reported on in the film, is shocking. This is “rendition”: the kidnapping of “terror suspects” in one country and taking them to another country where torture is a speciality of the secret police (places like Egypt), and a confession can be beaten out of them. By “outsourcing” it the US can then say it doesn’t torture!
Torture is always a shocking concept. But to me one of the most shocking aspects is that the point is absolutely not to get information. No one tells the truth under torture, you just say what you think your torturers want you to say. Torture is a secret thing, yet it is meant to have a wider effect. It is all about making society more scared and more quiescent.
The CIA/Special Rendition Unit people who pick up suspects are total goons. Their “terror suspects” are more or less anyone albeit, for now at least, you have to be Muslim. One Canadian-Syrian man met someone once at a mosque and wound up in a Syrian jail for 10 months. One British man (picked up by the US in the Gambia but obviously helped by the British state) was a friend of someone currently locked up in Belmarsh.
They say there are only six degrees of separation between us and everyone else in the world. Why don’t they lock us all up now and have done with it? They don’t have to when they can make examples of so many other poor souls. Time for the rest of us to protest!